When I was a teen, I listened to The Dr Demento Show every Saturday night. I think it was a social thing: my closest friends all listened to it. I disliked a lot of the material that was played. And it was repetitive. Still, there were transcendent pieces like Doodles Weaver’s parody of “Eleanor Rigby.” But it was very rarely played. One song that was played quite a lot was “The Ballad of Irving.”
In order to understand “The Ballad of Irving,” we have to go back to 1964 and a surprising number one hit in the US by Lorne Greene. That’s right: Ben Cartwright (“Pa”) on Bonanza. It should not surprise you that this iconic American character was played by… a Canadian. But I digress.
Greene had a hit with the song “Ringo.”
It’s about the drummer of a really famous band who has no detectable skill in anything at all. It’s about an outlaw in the old west. I rather like it. But then, I’m a sucker for this kind of sentimental drivel.
But the only part of the song that is sung is by a chorus that repeats, “Ringo! Ringo!” Otherwise, it is just Greene telling the story. Rather than recount it, you should just listen:
You can see why people would like it at the time. But you can also see why two years later, people would find it ripe for parody — especially since this kind of song became something of a thing.
Here Comes “The Ballad of Irving”
Those people were Frank Peppiatt, John Aylesworth, and Dick Williams. “The Ballad of Irving” tells the story of a Jewish gunman Irving: the 142nd fastest gun in the west. It was first released on the Bob Booker and George Foster comedy album When You’re in Love the Whole World Is Jewish and “sung” by Frank Gallop.
The song is basically one long Jewish joke.
I Don’t Want to Be Racist
What’s strange is that the people involved with that album, and it’s predecessor, You Don’t Have to Be Jewish, mostly don’t have classic Jewish names. I know some of them were Jewish. Probably they all were. In general, one gets Jewish humor from Jews.
I bring it up because (1) Jewish as a race has never made any sense to me and (2) I would feel slightly more comfortable about it if it were created by Jews. I probably shouldn’t worry. It’s hard to imagine a group of Baptists putting out You Don’t Have to Be Jewish and When You’re in Love the Whole World Is Jewish.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Butterfingers Irving
Regardless of my natural liberal guilt, I find this song extremely funny — as I suspect most American Jews would too. There’s something very likable about Irving. I’m not Jewish. (I’m Catholic, which a Jewish friend told me made me half Jewish — a thought I rather like.) But had I been a gunman in the old west, I would have acted very much like Irving, the 142nd fastest gun in the west.
Son of Irving
Shortly after the success of “The Ballad of Irving,” the same songwriters wrote “Son of Irving.” The song was not a success at the time. But worse is that it hasn’t aged well because, at least to me, it is implicitly homophobic. And I do mean “implicitly,” because there is nothing in the song that really signals this. It’s about a moma’s boy.
But there’s something about him being thin, tall, and good-looking that makes me think that they were implying homosexuality.
Regardless, even though the denouement is as strong as it is in “The Ballad of Irving,” the song doesn’t work nearly as well. Still, it’s worth a listen.
Dr Demento Days
Dr Demento is still around. There seem to be umpteen Dr Demonto CD collections. It’s nice to be reminded of him. But I doubt I would want to listen to his show — or any of his CDs. It’s all too uneven. But I’m glad to have been introduced to all those songs — even the ones I hate like Shaving Cream and Wet Dreams.